Thanks to funding through the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the New York State ConnectALL initiative, high-speed internet is experiencing something of a Gold Rush, with competing firms hoping to win the favor of consumers across the Hudson Valley.
Both the Town and Village of Saugerties have made an arrangement with Poughquag-based ProSplice, which created a fiber optic company called FiberLinc to provide residential service in Saugerties for $1 for the first month and $70 per month from then on, with cancellation possible anytime. FiberLinc has already secured pole rights from Central Hudson to help facilitate installation, but they were unable to come to an agreement with Town of Ulster-based Archtop Fiber to help speed up the process.
Town of Saugerties Supervisor Fred Costello said he expects FiberLinc to be the first serious competition for longtime service provider Spectrum, but not the last.
“We have developed a relationship with FiberLinc, and they have a network up and running that provides fiber to the home,” he said. “For now it’s focused in the village, but they have ambitions to expand that. We encouraged Archtop to kind of partner with them, but that was not a fruitful conversation. But FiberLinc has stated their commitment to stay and develop out the system.”
Still, it’s possible another company like Archtop will also seek to come into Saugerties and offer service alongside FiberLinc and Spectrum.
“Our residents will benefit, because now rather than have only one choice to secure internet, Spectrum, within a year and a half or so most of our residents should have potentially three choices to secure internet,” Costello said. “And I believe that competition will yield better service and certainly better pricing. And I believe a side effect, even for people who choose to stay with Spectrum, is Spectrum’s going to provide better customer service and better pricing to remain competitive. So I think residents overall are going benefit from this.”
But as with many local communities, some rural residents in Saugerties are still waiting for their first opportunity to connect to high speed internet, never mind having options to choose from.
“There’s a measure of excitement, but also still a measure of frustration,” Costello said. “There’s outlying areas of Saugerties that don’t even have Spectrum yet. And those residents, they want to know when they can hook up to something, you know, whether it be FiberLinc, Archtop or Spectrum. They just want access.”
How that access will work is still coming into focus. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $65 billion in broadband funding, which has seen companies seek municipal partnerships to access funding, particularly to serve rural areas, which due to the cost of connectivity, has in the past been financially inviable.
Town of Ulster approves signing with Archtop
In the Town of Ulster, Archtop is moving ahead with town approval.
“The concept is that the public-private partnership…would help them gain entree to the federal and state programs for the subsidies that are required to finance the underserved areas,” said Ulster Town Supervisor James E. Quigley III during a Town Board meeting held on Wednesday, October 20.
That partnership was made official last week when the Town council voted unanimously to authorize Quigley to sign an agreement allowing Archtop to obtain federal and state funding to ensure even rural parts of the community can have access. Like FiberLinc in Saugerties, Archtop has an arrangement with Central Hudson for use of their existing poles in the Town of Ulster.
New Paltz seeks alternatives
But while some local communities have already reached partnerships with fiber optics providers, others are still in the courting stage. Such is the case with both the Town and Village of New Paltz, which according to Village Mayor Tim Rogers has been trying to find an alternative to their current service for a long time.
Town of New Paltz Supervisor Neil Bettez agreed.
“We’ve been desperate to have anything besides just Spectrum for like the last, you know, forever basically,” Bettez said. “I’ve reached out as a supervisor to Verizon, asked them to come with Fios, and they said, ‘We’ll let you know.’”
Bettez said some local residents frustrated with Spectrum believe their municipal franchise agreement is the reason why they’re the only game in town, but that’s not the case.
“A franchise agreement doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones that are allowed here, it means that they’re allowed and we’re allowed to have anyone else,” he said. “It’s just like Burger King can open up across the street from McDonald’s.”
Bettez said he’s hopeful that the federal and state funding will get the entire community connected.
“From the beginning, people have asked us why can’t there be more choices?” Bettez said. “It’s the free market. It’s really expensive to put all the infrastructure in. Maybe not as much in the village, but with the area outside of the village where the density goes way down to put fiber to one house, there’s a lot more than putting it to an apartment building with a hundred units.”
“Serving a densely populated area like the Village of New Paltz or the City of Kingston is obviously less expensive than some of the more rural parts of Ulster County,” Bettez said. “But the whole thing is, it’s about equity.”
Rogers said that even with kids back in the classroom after virtual classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, connectivity is more important than ever before. Not just for schools, but also people working from home.
“It’s kind of a utility,” he said.
While fiber optics companies seek inroads with local communities, everyone is playing the waiting game to see how federal and state funding will be distributed. And as the process unfolds, even municipalities and businesses who are currently happy with their service may seek alternatives.
“Businesses and large customers can buy fiber services, but it’s out of reach for homeowners and small internet users,” Costello said. “So the town, we have a fiber contract with Spectrum that’s very good. But now as these other projects mature, we will certainly look at them as well and decide where the best value is for our residents.”